A Monkey Tethered to a Bomb Shell in Rural Laos

Throughout Asia during these past few months, we had the opportunity to gleefully observe monkeys outside of customary zoo environments. Some monkeys gracefully walked on power lines as if they were tightrope artists; others stole human goodies from garbage cans at outdoor establishments. The luckiest ones lived in areas that blended a natural with an urban environment (such as Ubud, Bali’s Monkey Forest or Elephanta Island, an hour’s boat ride from Mumbai).

Some of the primates we saw led essentially solitary lives in confinement. There was a pet monkey tethered to a front yard hook in Bali that was extremely disturbed by his isolation who found solace by looking at himself in a broken rear view mirror, despite being teased by neighborhood children. There were monkeys on leashes in India, paraded about by their owners who pleaded with benevolent travelers to give them baksheesh (money). Also, there was a monkey in rural Laos tethered to a rusted-out piece of of a bomb shell in front of a home pictured below.

Curious why this pet was chained to this UXO? It might surprise you – as it did me during my first visit to Laos in 2009 – that this nation is the world’s most bombed country per capita. From 1964-1973, it is estimated that U.S. forces dropped more than two million tons of bombs there – eclipsing those dropped in Japan and Germany during World War II. An estimated thirty percent of those bombs failed to detonate.

Ironically, impoverished people in rural Laos use left-over UXO as every-day objects: planters for flowers and vegetables, makeshift fences and even posts for their stilted homes. In this case, the metal was fashioned into a makeshift pet pole.

Where in the World?

Feel compelled to help clear Laos of unexploded ordnance? An NGO, Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is doing admirable work in Laos and beyond. Even the smallest donation can go a long way, as we discovered when we surprised our parents by donating money for clearing land in their names.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

10 thoughts on “A Monkey Tethered to a Bomb Shell in Rural Laos

    1. We were also amazed, Victor. The businesses in nearby Phonsavan, Laos, mostly carry ordnance themes too (restaurants called Bamboozle and Craters) complete with war-time accessories of all shapes and sizes.

  1. How sad – both the monkeys and the UXO’s. Another thought provoking post Tricia, I’ve learnt many new things reading your blog.

    1. It makes me happy to hear that you’ve learned something new about these places, Jane! Thank you for being such a devoted reader and for sharing your comments. :)

      We knew that embarking on such a trip would expose us to new ideas and cultures (of course that’s one of the biggest reasons for going!) but also unpleasant chapters of history, and at times, heart-wrenching happenings. Nevertheless, this awareness didn’t lesson the blow to see people living in difficult conditions. We found inspiration in the manner in which so many triumph – or attempt to – though.

  2. I had no idea! That last image is particularly poignant, somehow evoking not only the monkey’s plight but the plight of the people too.

    1. Very true, Rachael. Being in the environment is quite surreal. It was really odd to see weapons used as decorations or marketing tools for a business. But when one considers that many of the Laotian people have grown up with them, it’s easy to see how they’ve become a standard, even utilitarian component of life.

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